Friday, June 03, 2005

Self-Publishing - My View

Regarding self-publishing, someone asked:

"ExLibris sent me a package and I could not believe the things they charge you for."

This is nothing new. Every questionable offer found on the net is nothing more than a different take on swindles that have been with us for a very long time.

To be fair to ExLibris, I am not accusing them of being crooked and suggesting they are victimizing unsuspecting writers. They offer certain services for a certain amount of money, and if the money is as bad as the terms, you have no reason to bitch about it.

Be it an ExLibris, Publish America, or other publishers in that vein, the writer needs to carefully evaluate the contracts they sign and the terms they agree to. They also need to ask publishers, editors, and agents how desirable these opportunities actually are.

What bothers me is the notion that self-publishing is every bit as legitimate as traditional publishing. Now you know why I am hated so. Many of these publishers are not completely honest and sometimes they mislead their "clients." They sell their services by suggesting that these days, it is "impossible" to become published, so trust us because we love you. They pray on your vanity. They often suggest that a book published them by carries the same weight as a book published by a Dell or a Random House.

Yes, becoming legitimately published is difficult and it should always be difficult. Writing a book takes skill and effort and it should be hard to become a published author. Becoming a novelist is indeed difficult unless you use a questionable publisher that will often accept anything sent their way.

I also guarantee that many (most) agents will not take you seriously when you brag about being self-published. They will often view your effort with skepticism because they know better. Writers need skills and a proper approach and in the eyes of many agents and publishers, a self-published effort is not an important credit. Sadly, much of the self-published work out there is utter crap.

Writers also assume that vanity and subsidy publishing was respected by the whole of the publishing community because that is what the vanity publisher tells them. Almost every reputable publisher will tell you that you need to be very careful if you sign a contract with a vanity house and respected publications like "Writer's Digest" also warns the beginner to be extremely careful.

At one time, (before the net) vanity and subsidy publishers charged the author for absolutely everything. It was often quite difficult to know what you received as part of your deal because contracts could be difficult to understand.

Very few writers bothered to have a literary lawyer vet the contract and some writers lived to regret it. For example, they cannot sell their work as original; they are forced into telling their editor the work was previously published.

Then there were those "publishers" that charged for book storage. This forced you to order and take delivery, or pay for manuscript storage. Some publishers had outrageous shipping costs, fees for "professional" editing, fees for the pallet your books were stored on, manuscript storage, binding costs, charges they made up that no one understood, high costs for galley proofs.

If your galley proofs required editing, a charge was often assessed that went far beyond what a writer might normally expect to pay had they been legitimately published. Remember, at one time, books were set differently and it took great effort to make changes. The process was far more mechanical than it is these days.

To be fair, all authors receive galley proofs and in the good old days, the writer could be charged for making major changes.

Back in the day, some vanity/subsidy publishers found clients with very little problem, because they prayed upon the "vanity" of the hopeful writer that suddenly found a willing publisher to handle their work. I remember seeing the ads on television and on matchbook covers. "Are you an author in need of a publisher?" was one tag line. The publisher really did not care how good the work was.

This situation has not changed much, except that there are far more "publishers" out there waiting for gullible writers. The sad thing is, the books published by these fly by night "publishers" stand very little (if any) chance of being taken seriously.

These days, you can publish with a click of the button, so thousands of writers simply decide to forgo the perceived hassles and they publish something that still requires work. We all seem to take the path of least resistance, so these offers look good to us. Some writers are new and they have not investigated the publishing process enough to say, as it is now, traditional publishing sucks because it is impossible for the new writer to break in.

I would suggest that every writer carefully read his or her contracts. If you are spending several thousand dollars, have a lawyer vet the contract before you dare sign it. Start doing your research and asking question; you will be better off in the end.

Robert Maxey - Salt Lake City, Utah


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